Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth Space Medicine Science Technology

Study: Astronauts Who Reach Deep Space 'Far More Likely To Die From Heart Disease' (independent.co.uk) 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Astronauts who venture into deep space appear to be much more likely to die from heart disease, according to a new study. In another sign that leaving planet Earth is fraught with danger and a potential blow to hopes of establishing a colony on Mars, researchers discovered deep space radiation appears to damage the body's cardiovascular system. They reported that three out of the seven dead Apollo astronauts died as a result of a cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke. Although the numbers are small, that rate of 43 percent is four to five times higher than found among astronauts who flew in low Earth orbit or who did not actually go into space, according to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports. In an attempt to test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of traveling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced. After six months, which is the equivalent of 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries that is known to lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in humans.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Study: Astronauts Who Reach Deep Space 'Far More Likely To Die From Heart Disease'

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:12AM (#52604851)

    I don't see why this would be a surprise but at the statistical rigor level we're talking about dozens of people being used for heart studies. Even with NASA's predilection for perfection there's no way to isolate deep space causal to heart disease or much else with as few individuals as we're ever measuring from.

    • by mrvan ( 973822 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:43AM (#52604925)

      I agree that the sample size of 7 is rot, the 95% confidence interval around a binomial with 3/7 is 10%-82%, in other words: "we don't have a clue".
      However, neither TFA nor the /. summary actually link to the source, so here it is:

      Michael D. Delp, Jacqueline M. Charvat, Charles L. Limoli, Ruth K. Globus & Payal Ghosh, Apollo Lunar Astronauts Show Higher Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: Possible Deep Space Radiation Effects on the Vascular Endothelium [nature.com], Nature Scientific Reports (open ac

      Interestingly, they do claim statistical significance on the 7 astronaut "study", but I don't have time atm to have a better look...

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @03:05AM (#52604965) Homepage

        Indeed, the sample size is small, but how are they supposed to get a larger sample? They did the logical followup, which is a mouse study that confirmed the (limited) human results.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Indeed, the sample size is small, but how are they supposed to get a larger sample?

          Send more men? I'm sure if they get the research grant NASA will be willing to help them out...

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @05:50AM (#52605277)

          Indeed, the sample size is small, but how are they supposed to get a larger sample?

          You don't. You just admit that the sample is to small to draw meaningful conclusions. The error bars here have to be enormous.

          They did the logical followup, which is a mouse study that confirmed the (limited) human results.

          Mice aren't humans last I checked and while mouse models are very useful you are limited in how far you can extrapolate the findings to humans. Basically this finding is something that should make scientists go "huh, that's curious - we should follow up on this once we have more data".

          • Basically this finding is something that should make scientists go "huh, that's curious - we should follow up on this once we have more data".

            And that's actually what MOST science should be. Particularly with human studies, it's often difficult to get huge amounts of data for a decent sample, so most studies should be exploratory. Then a larger future study should be designed in such a way that it could easily DISPROVE the previous one. In that case, we'd actually make scientific progress more efficiently.

            Instead, what generally happens today:

            -- Data shows small correlation, but too little statistical power to draw firm conclusions. ("X mi

        • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

          Indeed, the sample size is small, but how are they supposed to get a larger sample?

          There are a lot of posters here claiming the LNT model [wikipedia.org] is bogus and Radiation hormesis [wikipedia.org] leads to health benefits. They could volunteer to be exposed to this radiation as an opportunity for them to prove their point and help progress scientific understanding of the effects of exposure to deep space radiation.

        • They has to expose the mice to a 20 year equivalent of radiation to see the effect, how does that confirm the results? 1 of the 7 astronauts also died in a motorcycle accident, does that mean deep space radiation increases your chance of being killed on a motorcycle by several orders of magnitude?
          • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

            Yes it does.

            If you go to space, your chances of dying on a motorcycle go up drastically. Same amount as your chances of becoming a senator and punching someone.

            So if you want a political career, go to space, you will easily become a senator.

            • So if you want a political career, go to space, you will easily become a senator.

              Ironically, I'm sure there's some truth to that despite your sarcasm.

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

          That is easy to get a larger sample.

          Pack all the politicians in Congress and who are currently running for positions and launch them into space. We can check on them in a few years.

          Plus it will solve a HUGE problem down here at the same time.... It's a WIN-WIN!

          • Shooting the messengers doesn't solve the problem of

            a) everyone ignoring them,
            b) a bogus message.

            That said, it would be a good start. =)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I agree that the sample size of 7 is rot, the 95% confidence interval around a binomial with 3/7 is 10%-82%

        Wrong test. The article says that "that rate of 43 percent is four to five times higher than found among astronauts who flew in low Earth orbit or who did not actually go into space". So the background rate is between 1/4 and 1/5 of 43% ... let's guess 10%. Out of 7 astronauts in deep space, we would then expect 0.7 deaths from heart disease. From a binomial distribution, the probability of getting 3 or more is 2.6%.

        So, for the hypothesis that astronauts who went to deep space have an elevated risk of h

    • Even with NASA's predilection for perfection ...

      Who's to say that isn't also part of the problem. Perfection has many aspects; perhaps NASA focuses on the wrong things or their focus is too narrow.

    • by MercTech ( 46455 )

      A weightless environment causes degradation in of muscular systems that takes a disproportionate amount of time to regain muscle tone. It seems logical that the connecting tissues of the cardiovascular system would show changes as well.
          The huge question will be what is the long term effect of reduced gravity as opposed to weightless or micro gravity. Until we have research stations on another planet; it is all hypothesis.

    • Don't forget to correlate this with the test on mice. It allows a hypothetical deduction. This is, no doubt, offered with cautious consideration.

      Does this mean that insurance for space travelers will go up?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    but we will be able to do wonders in medicine in a few hundred years. Just wait for it, we can replace the whole cardiovascular system if we want to.

    Also, all we have to achieve is that they survive long enough on mars to procreate and raise the child to be big enough to survive on its own. Having machines raise a child is more challenging, but it still can be realized.

    Nobody needs to survive on mars for 60 years. Less than 2 centuries ago, most humans didn't reach the age of 40.

    • Not on our current path of pushing out medicine before they even test it, leading to side effects that are more severe than the disease. Right now Pharmaceutical Company’s only seem to be interested in manufacturing medicine that will make the big bucks, like the Blue Pill, which really serves no purpose. Being able to achieve an erection is not more important than treating Heart Disease with little to no side effects.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Not on our current path of pushing out medicine before they even test it" Actually getting a new drug approved takes an inordinate amount of time and there are people with rare cancers and immunology defects that could benefit from drugs that are not approved.

        "Being able to achieve an erection is not more important than treating Heart Disease with little to no side effects."
        It is not an either or situation. Pharmaceutical companies and research scientists work to develop many different types of drugs simul

      • by NotSoHeavyD3 ( 1400425 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @06:52AM (#52605421)

        Being able to achieve an erection is not more important than treating Heart Disease with little to no side effects.

        Well I guess that's ironic.(Then again someone will correct me if this isn't really an example of irony.) I mean it sounds like he's complaining about Viagra. For those that don't know the pill that gives old dudes woodies was originally developed as an anti-high blood pressure medicine. Yes, really. (Researchers noticed the side effects and somebody saw an opportunity.)

      • Well, the little blue pill also provides enough funding for R&D on other drugs, so maybe it's at least more important than you suggest.

        Though your comment also suggests you're not at the age where a little blue pill MIGHT matter more than heart disease to you.

      • Right now Pharmaceutical Company’s only seem to be interested in manufacturing medicine that will make the big bucks, like the Blue Pill, which really serves no purpose.

        For something which you claim serves no purpose they are selling a hell of a lot of those pills. Obviously it serves a purpose for some people.

        Being able to achieve an erection is not more important than treating Heart Disease with little to no side effects.

        Funny you should say that since Viagra was originally developed for angina and hypertension [wikipedia.org]. It turned out to have little effect on heart disease but they noticed the rather marked side effects and it turned out to be a financial boon for that. They did not set out to develop a drug for erectile problems, they just stumbled across one while trying to develop drugs

      • Right now Pharmaceutical Company’s only seem to be interested in manufacturing medicine that will make the big bucks, like the Blue Pill, which really serves no purpose.

        I would more incline to say Pharmaceutical companies nowadays are coming out with drugs that keep patients alive longer rather than to cure the disease. However, it may not sound so bad for those who are near the end of life and want to live a bit longer...

  • Sounds Familiar. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:16AM (#52604865) Homepage

    FTFA:

    Professor Michael Delp, one of the researchers, said: "We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system."

    We do however know a lot about the effects of terrestrial radiation on human heath... a long-term side effect of radiation therapy to the chest area can be a increased risk of heart disease [wikipedia.org]... apparently. :-/

    • Re: Sounds Familiar. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @03:10AM (#52604985) Homepage

      This was known and discussed. But they found microgravity to be a compounding effect of radiation exposure

      This just drives home how much of a risk interplanetary flight is right now. And we really don't have great solutions that don't involve great masses of shielding. Artificial magnetosopheres for example are insufficient to deal with GCR.

      • Being ignorant here, but faraday cages aren't that heavy relative to lead shielding. Are they effective for this type of radiation?

        • I'm guessing not, since the Apollo astronauts flew to the Moon in a tin can.

        • Being ignorant here, but faraday cages aren't that heavy relative to lead shielding. Are they effective for this type of radiation?

          No, this is particle radiation as opposed to an electromagnetic signal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, but stress also causes heart problems.
      I suspect deep space missions typically causes more stress than low orbit missions but that is just speculative, just like most of this discussion.

    • FTFA:

      Professor Michael Delp, one of the researchers, said: "We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system."

      We do however know a lot about the effects of terrestrial radiation on human heath...

      Given the recent UN reports on cell phone "radiation", deep space is probably a 1:1 tradeoff at this point...

  • by He Who Has No Name ( 768306 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:37AM (#52604907)

    Did anybody bother to control for the prevalence of smoking and other environmental factors that may not be in play for most individuals 50 years later?

    Mission Control looked like a nicotine hotbox half the time back then, and astronauts rotated through as CAPCOM. And that's not even starting to consider what else they may have been deliberately or accidentally exposed to during the early space program.

    • by DingerX ( 847589 )
      Don't forget a decade of having steak and eggs for breakfast!
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        We really don't understand the relationship between diet and longevity yet. There is ample evidence to suggest that steak and eggs for breakfast at high frequency isn't a good health move for you and I. When you control for the population that also does a lot of physical labor most days, like farmers, landscapers, miners, etc than suddenly high fat/cholesterol, high animal protein diets don't seem to lead to heart disease and other conditions like diabetes nearly so often.

        There is a relationship between w

        • There is ample evidence to suggest that steak and eggs for breakfast at high frequency isn't a good health move for you and I.

          That turns out not to be the case. Certainly until you cite a sufficient number of studies that prove your point - of which, I submit, there are none. The salient fact is that those who claim "that steak and eggs for breakfast at high frequency isn't a good health move" can't point to any actual scientific evidence - just a huge amount of, "he said, she said".

          It is certainly true that most people don't need to eat breakfast at all: a good pattern is to eat two meals, one at about noon and one at about 6 p.m

      • by Anonymous Coward

        As opposed to a significant increase in carbs/breakfast cereals which has lead to a massive increase in diabetes/weight gain/higher BMI.

    • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @06:05AM (#52605313) Homepage

      No they didn't. Luckily there is such a bright mind as yourself to point the obvious...

      If you read the article (yeah, I know, who does?) they used all other lower orbit astronauts as a control group, who had similar diets, smoking and drinking habits and level of fitness and stress.

      • Curious where you're seeing they controlled for 'similar diet, smoking, drinking habits' when that's not mentioned either in the article or the actual paper.

        Group sampling methods are pretty well spelled out in that paper, and yet, not seeing it.

  • Seven? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:43AM (#52604921)
    A sample size of seven is too small to draw any conclusions. The radiation hypothesis makes sense, though.
    • What about the severe physical regime these guys were put through ? Being subjected to high g-forces?

    • by Alomex ( 148003 )

      Seven? There were thirty deep space Apollo astronauts. 12 people walked on the moon alone.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But when they are researching likelihood of dying from heart disease, it's pretty much essential to narrow it down to the dead ones.

      • Number is reduced because of lifestyle choices after missions that negatively correlations. ie started smoking heavily, drug dependency, etc, etc.

  • "Although the numbers are small, that rate of 43 percent is four to five times higher". The number being this small means the results are not in any ways even near being statistically significant, and the conclusion is there is no conclusion to be made except someone needs to refresh their knowledge of the binomial distribution. It is not a scientific result if you cannot make a scientific argument to back it up. In other news, in 100% of known spacefaring species, the first individual of that species to r

  • by Darkling-MHCN ( 222524 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:46AM (#52604929)

    Did they take into account the average sex life of your "I've landed on the moon" astronaut?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It looks to me like the humans rates where merely what triggered the interest in testing the mice. It's the mice that are said to have the statistically significant rate, not the humans.

  • well fix it by building better shielding to the spacecrafts.. If our planet can do it, so can we...
  • Other factors? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @03:32AM (#52605017)
    Perhaps astronauts who go into deep space are feted and find themselves traveling more, eating out more, being in more smoke filled environments, stressing out in front of large audiences etc. A few days in space might not be what did it but everything that came after. Or maybe it's just a statistical blip from a small sample size.
    • Re:Other factors? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @06:09AM (#52605327) Homepage

      which is why they used lower earth orbit astronauts as a control group. (I know, I cheated, I actually read the article).

      • You could have just RTFS

        In an attempt to test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of traveling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced. After six months, which is the equivalent of 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries that is known to lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in humans.

      • which is why they used lower earth orbit astronauts as a control group. (I know, I cheated, I actually read the article).

        That's a much less-feted control group, though.

  • It seems that all astronauts who died from hearth problem, have enough time after spaceflight to rise children. So, small rise of probability of heart attack doesn't prevent creation of successful colony.

    Remember, how much chances have first British colonists in the North America to survive just a first winter.

    As far as I remember, people in British East-India company have about 90% chances of dying from tropical fevers and cholera before returning to England. This haven't prevented Britain to rule India fo

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      This was my thought. Exploration in remote places has always been dangerous.

      Sailors risked tropical disease, sanitation-related disease, malnutrition diseases, starvation, death from dehydration.

      I'm curious what the risk rate for skin cancers is for mountaineers given that they spend increased time at high elevations with enhanced solar radiation exposure.

      Nobody is being forced to strap into a rocket and go to Mars, just like nobody is forced to skydive, climb mountains or explore any wilderness. There ar

  • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @04:12AM (#52605103)
    ...people with heart disease are far more likely to become cosmonauts who reach deep space.
  • by Sneftel ( 15416 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @05:17AM (#52605221)

    In an attempt to test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of traveling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced. After six months, which is the equivalent of 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries that is known to lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in humans.

    Well, no. The scientists slammed the mice with ~6-12 months' worth of radiation in ten minutes. Yeah, they probably had artery damage. Stuff like that happens when you stick a mouse in the microwave.

  • As others have pointed out the sample size is too small to be scientifically valid, but even if you want to draw conclusions from it, how about the astronauts that went into deep space lived 11.9 years LONGER than those that did not fly, and 9.2 years longer than those that made LEO? Plus many of them are still alive in the 70s and 80s.

  • Three out of Seven? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rob Lister ( 4174831 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @06:20AM (#52605351)
    The article states:

    They reported that three out of the seven dead Apollo astronauts...

    I count eight

    Alan Shepard
    Edgar Mitchel
    Jack Swigert
    James Irwin
    Neil Armstrong
    Pete Conrad
    Ronald Evans
    Stuart Roosa

    Pete Conrad died in a motorcycle accident. Is that justification to exclude him? With him, the rate drops to 37%. Regardless, if we wait a decade or so the sample size will be much higher.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      And Jack Swigert died from cancer. Don't know what the state of his cardiovascular health was.

  • by m76 ( 3679827 )

    The number of people that went into deep space is far too small a sample size to draw any kind of conclusion from.

  • This study could not separate the effect of microgravity from radiation. But a mouse centrifuge on the ISS could be used to test for space radiation at Earth, Mars and lunar gravitation levels. You could even test for all these levels at once with a "three story torus."

    • Edit: test for gravitation at...

  • What is the rate of heart disease in all of the astronaut core? You can't draw solid conclusions from a sample size of seven individuals that were carefully selected based on their traits. Honestly, you have no idea if this holds true for the general public, it could just be that the people who are qualified and selected to be astronauts have a higher incidence of heart disease.

  • I'm sure all the booze, broads, and general partying that surrounded these astronaut heroes for years had nothing to do with it.

  • How can this be considered a valid study when the sample size is so small? Furthermore, we haven't been back to the Moon in almost 50 years. Healthcare and fitness has come a long way since then.

  • This is more than likely due to the fact that McDonalds will sponsor this great trip into the void.
  • N of 7 with an unmonitored life style.

  • We've known for decades that long-term exposure to zero-g causes all kinds of health problems in humans. Including messing up your eyesight [washingtonpost.com]/.

    We've also known for decades how to solve this problem. Create some gravity by spinning the spacecraft. If spacecraft is too small to make this feasible, attach a ballast on a tether and have the spacecraft and ballast orbit each other.

  • TLDR but I say first demonstrate to land a man on the Moon and bring him back safely before thinking of sending people to Mars. Moon is only three days away where Mars will always be 20 years away (they've been saying we'll put someone on Mars for past 50 years). Though having people on the Moon was done nearly 50 years ago, need to demonstrate it can be done again. i.e. do it occasionally it is a stunt. Do it routinely it is a business.
  • We'll likely have nanobot technology before we're ready for large scale deep space exploration. Program the nanobots to repair arteries, you might come back from your space trip in better health than when you left!

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein

Working...